Leslie Lehr, sister of KEYT anchor Tracy Lehr, takes on the issues that touch everyone: marriage, motherhood, and, now, divorce. Her work has appeared in anthologies such as The Mommy Wars and The Honeymoon’s Over, and she’s currently developing a television project with Lifetime. Like much of her work, her new novel, Wife Goes On, draws from her own life as it follows four seemingly different women who find that having divorce in common is a foundation for strong, supportive friendships-friendships that remind them they’re not alone, that carry them through the dark times and into their happy second acts.
How much of this book was inspired by your own life? I wrote an essay for The Honeymoon’s Over called “Welcome to the Club” about how much I didn’t want to get a divorce; I felt like there was a stigma. When I finally made the decision, I realized I had joined a club; everywhere I went women really helped me out. Once I opened up, people shared with me, and I started noticing that I could tell if other women were divorced or not.
And then one morning I woke up so happy! Statistics say women over 30 are more often the ones who initiate divorce. And 85 percent of them say they’re happier. I realized I was being a bad role model for my kids by staying. That one day when I woke up so happy, it was a revelation. I was better off alone. I had my life back. I looked in the mirror, and it was like, “Oh my god, I got to have a second chance.” It had nothing to do with work or the kids, but was because of friends.
I also realized that in my mom’s generation, they didn’t air their dirty laundry. Now we wash it together. If you connect with other people, it really helps you get through. It’s a new beginning; it doesn’t have to be dark. If you look at it that way, you can start over and have the life of your dreams.
So with the characters in Wife Goes On, I wanted to have a person at each stage of divorce. And also, I found I had much more in common with women than I would ever have thought, and that’s why the characters are so different.
Each of the characters’ husbands does something pretty egregious: You’ve got a cheater, a gambler, a homosexual, and an abuser. Did you feel the circumstances had to be extreme for a divorced woman to be a sympathetic character? This is not a book about whether you should get a divorce or not. I personally think that whatever you believe to be true is enough, and we do get caught up in the fairy tale. I think if you wake up in your thirties and think, “Oh my god, this is not what I want to do with my life,” that’s legitimate. I just chose not to emphasize that in my book.
Another theme is the value of female friendships. Why do you think they’re so important? Well, the interesting thing is that women really have the advantage here-the capacity for conversation and sharing deeply. It’s the emotional connections with friends that get you through. I had one friend who’d been through it, I had one friend who’d listen to me, and I had one friend who I’d just have a good time with. I thought, “I am so fortunate.” The stigma that remains about divorce, I believe, is internal. We feel like a failure, we want to be Cinderella. It really helps lose that stigma when you have friends to support you.
It seems that, with the women in this book, the older they are, the happier they are. Where does that idea come from? I think that has to do with society’s judgments. There’s a time when we’re pressured to be part of a couple; many older women have come to a place where they know who they are and can do exactly what they want. Women who no longer have all the family responsibilities are freer and don’t care so much about what other people think.
With the current world of publishing being what it is and your experience doing personal essays, why not make it a memoir? The essay was as personal as I could get. The novel is a fun book; I felt like the essay was as close as I wanted to get to how it happened. One, I want to protect the privacy of my kids and my ex, and two, I’m done with the divorce. I’m so ready to move on. You have to go down so deep to get out of that hole, and I’m out of that hole. I want to have fun; I want to read fun books. There’s still a real message here, but it’s really just a fun book.
Leslie Lehr will discuss Wife Goes On and sign copies of the book today, Thursday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Borders (900 State St.). For more information, call 899-3668 or visit wife-goes-on.com.